Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2016
“Everybody Has a Story – Part 3”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon as I continue my sermon series “Everybody Has a Story” will be a text from Psalm 50:15:
(The Lord said) “And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
This is the text, and the person whose story we consider is Pastor John D. Johnson III. My dear friends,
In the Saturday, October 16, 1982 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Pastor Vic Mennicke was quoted as calling his new mission start-up Good Shepherd Lutheran Church “the happiest little group of Christendom.” He also stated in that article, “The challenge for me is primarily to help the members of our congregation achieve a relationship with our Lord. Beyond that, we hope to do good beyond the confines of our church walls.” And then there is a black and white photo of Pastor on that same page looking fit and trim and stronger and healthier. Of course, that was 34 years ago; we ALL looked stronger and healthier 34 years ago. In 1982 I was a freshman…in high school. And I even still had hair then!
Pastor Mennicke did a fine job at what he was called to do, and you and I are here as a testament to the fact that the mission he started still tries to achieve a relationship with our Lord as we keep growing. Good Shepherd started with around 60 people, quickly grew to 100, and now our membership is triple of that. Pastor did a good job getting people into and staying in church. Most of the time, for the most part, pastors are trying to get people into their church. Most of the time, that is. Last fall (9/13/15), Pastor John D. Johnson III of Corinth Missionary Baptist Church in Bullard, Texas showed himself to be the exception to that rule. Pastor Johnson was occupied in a conference room, and other members of his congregation were in other locations throughout the church building. While Pastor Johnson was working, Rasheed Abdul Aziz came in and announced he was a “man of Islam.” That’s rarely good in a Christian church, especially 2 days after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Aziz stated he wanted to pray with the pastor, then everything changed. Aziz announced that demons were chasing him. “You’re here at church,” Johnson then said, “what can we do for you?” Aziz then shouted that his god had authorized him to kill any infidel – Christians and Jews – who opposed his religious beliefs. If Pastor Johnson had any thought of casually dismissing Mr. Aziz, he put that notion aside when he spotted the 9mm gun in Aziz’s pocket. Using training received at another job (having served as a parole officer and had received training on verbal de-escalation and dealing with mentally ill offenders), Pastor Johnson calmed Mr. Aziz and then made an excuse to leave the room for a moment, saying he was going to check on some children. Johnson then used that moment to warn the others. He said, “We got a problem. Get everybody out of the church.” The people, including Pastor Johnson, made a quick and calm retreat. Later, Mr. Aziz was found by the police with the gun still in his pocket along with a number of tactical items in his possession. They arrested him and charged him with being a felon, previously convicted for marijuana possession and aggravated robbery, in possession of a firearm. As I read that story, it occurred to me that if Mr. Aziz had fired upon Pastor Johnson and the members of his church, it would have been picked up by every news service. Indeed, it would have been splashed all over the evening news and the front page of every newspaper. But when a Christian pastor does and says the right thing and people are all delivered by God’s hand, not much is said; secular media doesn’t find that sensational enough to report. The story was picked up by a few local Texas affiliates and that’s it. No national media carried the story whatsoever. None. How sad. It’s typical, though, because “bad” things get the attention and good things get unnoticed. It is right and proper for God’s people to both call upon Him in days of trouble and also to praise Him for His ongoing preservation having delivered us of evil as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer whether that makes it on the news or not. The psalmist is quite correct when he tells us the Lord’s people are to call upon Him during evil times. And the psalmist is also correct when he adds after God has delivered you, then remember and glorify Him. Sadly, but not so strangely, this is an area where many Christians struggle. We’re good at calling on the Lord for help, but we’re pretty lame when it comes to thanking Him for services rendered. We are better at identifying needs and perceived deficiency in needs (like running out of wine at a wedding) than we are at thanking God for all the things that we DO have. Our sin-laden hearts are slow to thank and quick to complain. Sin does a great job of reminding us how “bad off” we are on those days we struggle to survive. Sin gladly reminds us that our dreams have been shattered. Sin delights in pointing out that your relationships, finances, and health are in poor condition.
As Christians, though, we strive to not let sin define us. Even on our worst days, we never lose faith. We hold on to hope. We trust in God believing that when we are down to nothing, He must be up to something. We celebrate all the GOOD He has done and provided. Yes, we should glorify the Lord for all of our earthly deliverances and, most of all, for our spiritual rescue. Through the work of Jesus Christ, because of His birth in Bethlehem, His earthly life, His innocent suffering on Calvary’s, His death upon that rugged cross, and then His resurrection, people of faith like you and I acknowledge He has saved us from sin’s consequences and the Law’s charges. That Jesus has done what we could not is ALWAYS a joy, which should be acknowledged on our most glorious days and even our most horrific of days too.
May we always be reminded of who we are in Jesus so that we always glorify Him. May we always be reminded that we are children of God, and the difference that makes as we live our lives. May we always be reminded of all of God’s goodness and that, as a result, we have nothing to fear – not even murderous Muslims – because if God is for us, then who can be against us!